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2021 will (still) not be “normal”

2021 will (still) not be “normal”


2020 was a defining year for retail, facing the challenges of the pandemics on top of the disruption that has faced the industry in the last decade. As we enter a new year, many retailers are looking for guidance on what to expect and answers to questions on how long the pandemic will restrict our societies and how much of the changed consumer behaviour will stay beyond the pandemic.

It is clear that 2021 will not be a normal year, whatever normal is nowadays. It will be a year of change, as always in retail, but possibly with even faster and deeper changes than 2020.

This means both solidifying and optimizing processes that were implemented rapidly (and in many cases sub-optimally) to meet extraordinary demands and developing completely new tools and processes to meet the new needs we see developing as 2021 progresses.

We have listed three ways we predict retail will change in the coming year:

1. Year of automation

While many retailers struggled with staffing even before the pandemic, last year showed how vulnerable store operations are when both customers and staff were required to stay at home due to virus restrictions. Store staff will play an even greater role in stores going forward, as the customer service they provide is a key selling point for customers visiting the store.

However, the last year has shown the importance of automation of mundane and repetitive store tasks such as shelf replenishment and inventory, freeing up staff to focus on customer engagement; and driving speed and efficiency in new areas, such as click and collect, to drive better customer service.

2. Year of real-time

In the first half of last year, as people around the globe learned about the pandemic, customers began to hoard everyday products such as toilet rolls, leaving large gaps across the aisles of supermarkets. While the situation was unprecedented, it highlighted the old-fashioned way many retailers still gather insights from store activity based on daily or weekly information gathering.

It took too long for most to understand which products were being stockpiled and by the time the information was available, it was too late to adjust the stock. In this coming year, we predict more retailers will adjust their in-store reporting to work in real-time, enabling them to act on information as it happens.

3. Year of choice

The restrictions of the pandemic forced many customers to switch to online shopping alternatives, or hybrid alternatives such as buy-online-pick-up-in-store. As restrictions will start to ease some time during 2021 customers are freer to decide for themselves.

Will they keep their new online/hybrid habits, or will they return to more in-store shopping?

The decision will be driven by practical issues but also by emotion. Therefore, stores will need to identify and further develop the emotional values and positive engagement that store visits can activate; for example real-life inspiration, dynamic, personalized advertising and much more integrated customer guidance.


We would love to hear your reflections on the coming year, please send us a comment at